Mimi Levin Lieber, Whose Focus Groups Shaped Postwar Marketing, Dies at 93

Mimi Levin Lieber, Whose Focus Teams Formed Postwar Advertising, Dies at 93

Mimi Levin Lieber, a pioneer in the usage of focus teams to form product improvement and advertising at a number of the nation’s largest corporations, and later a stalwart advocate for early childhood literacy in New York, died on Oct. 16 at Mount Sinai West hospital in Manhattan. She was 93.

Her son James Lieber stated the trigger was respiratory failure.

Mrs. Lieber was one among a number of social scientists, lots of them ladies, who within the Nineteen Fifties and ’60s took analysis popping out of establishments just like the College of Chicago and Columbia College and utilized it to advertising and promoting.

It was a time when American shopper patterns had been altering and corporations had been struggling to maintain up. What had as soon as been a mass-market economic system, through which corporations bought a couple of merchandise to as many individuals as attainable, was quickly segmenting, with customers demanding objects tailor-made to their wants.

Mrs. Lieber’s explicit specialty, first at a Chicago promoting company and afterward her personal, was the main focus group — now a staple within the enterprise world, however a novel method on the time.

She would collect eight or ten randomly chosen individuals round an oval desk after work, give them meals and chat with them, first about their day, after which, as soon as they had been snug, about issues like their private hygiene, underwear decisions or courting preferences. She would crunch these insights into voluminous information units for company purchasers like Hanes and Normal Mills.

“It could sound very primary and unprofound,” she stated in an interview with Newsday in 1993, “however the issue with the American system of enterprise is that corporations suppose operationally, ‘That is what we’re good at producing, now how can we promote it?’ — moderately than considering as entrepreneurs, ‘What does the buyer need, and we’ll produce it.’”

Miriam Leah Levin was born on March 22, 1928, in Detroit. Her father, Theodore Levin, was the chief choose on the U.S. District Courtroom for the Jap District of Michigan; her mom, Rhoda (Katzin) Levin, was a homemaker.

The Levins are a household thick with political achievement. Mrs. Lieber’s first cousin, Carl Levin, was a Democratic senator from Michigan (he died in July), and his brother, Sandy, was a Democratic consultant from the state; Sandy’s son Andy now holds the identical seat. One among Mrs. Lieber’s sons, Janno, is the performing chairman and chief government of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Mrs. Lieber studied social psychology on the College of Chicago, the place she acquired a bachelor’s diploma in 1949 and a grasp’s in 1951. The college was on the forefront of sociological analysis and training, and she or he and plenty of different college students had been amongst a vanguard that introduced the college’s insights into the personal sector.

After commencement, she moved to New York, the place she labored on the Bureau of Utilized Social Analysis, an institute at Columbia run by the sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld. Throughout World Battle II, Dr. Lazarsfeld and his colleagues had developed strategies for testing and tweaking authorities info, most notably via the usage of what they known as the targeted interview.

As an alternative of asking individuals to finish a survey to see whether or not they appreciated a program, Dr. Lazarsfeld’s workforce would assemble individuals in a room and probe why — an method he delivered to company purchasers after the warfare ended.

Mrs. Lieber helped refine these strategies, at Columbia and later at a analysis agency in Britain. Dr. Lazarsfeld’s first teams had gathered in dingy rooms, along with his workforce watching from a nook. Now they got snacks and sat in snug chairs in well-lit areas as they chatted informally with a facilitator. The remainder of the researchers had been hidden behind a one-way mirror.

Mrs. Lieber returned to america in 1955, taking a job in Chicago with Tatham-Laird, an promoting company famend for its understanding of the American middle-class shopper.

“She was a kind of individuals who was actually within the nitty-gritty of figuring easy methods to do focus teams,” Liza Featherstone, the writer of “Divining Want: Focus Teams and the Tradition of Session,” stated in an interview. “She was one of many earliest individuals to carry the main focus group into the promoting trade.”

She married Charles Lieber in 1960. He died in 2016. Alongside together with her sons James and Janno, she is survived by her brothers, Daniel and Joseph; one other son, Theo; her daughter, Angie; and 10 grandchildren.

In 1961 Mrs. Lieber struck out on her personal, founding Lieber Angle Analysis. She staffed it nearly fully with ladies and pitched herself as somebody uniquely poised to elucidate feminine customers. Inside a couple of years she was working with main advert businesses like Ogilvy & Mather and, via them, purchasers like Hanes, Citibank and Normal Mills.

For the subsequent 30 years she supplied a gradual information to corporations making an attempt to remain forward of the quickly shifting American shopper, particularly as ladies moved into the office and males started to tackle extra home duties.

“There was this embrace of the concept of segmenting the market, that completely different teams have completely different tastes and that corporations must market to those explicit segments of the buyer public,” Lizabeth Cohen, a historian at Harvard and the writer of “A Shopper’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America,” stated in an interview.

One among Mrs. Lieber’s greatest successes got here in 1969, when her analysis amongst ladies supplied the framework for L’eggs, a line of pantyhose from Hanes bought not in shops however at grocery store checkout strains, in platic egg-shaped containers. It was a radical — and really profitable — transfer, however one Hanes may by no means have taken had Mrs. Lieber’s analysis not proven that girls had been longing for it.

She started one other chapter in her life in 1981 when Jerrold Nadler, then a member of the New York State Meeting (and now a U.S. consultant), nominated her to the New York Board of Regents.

The board oversees the state’s instructional actions, however Mrs. Lieber instantly chafed at what she noticed as a preoccupation with increased training on the expense of elementary faculty, particularly in lower-income neighborhoods. She spent a lot of her time on the board pushing for extra funding for low-income colleges.

In 1987 she pushed the regents to distribute state cash based mostly on the proportion of low-income youngsters at a given faculty, an effort that reworked the best way the state approaches instructional spending.

Mrs. Lieber left the board in 1996, the identical 12 months she based Studying, Included, often called LINC, a nonprofit that promotes studying in lower-income neighborhoods in New York.

Immediately LINC works with dozens of faculties and public libraries throughout town.

“Her legacy reminds us that we should assist and put money into our kids’s training from the earliest years, when it issues essentially the most,” Consultant Nadler stated in an announcement, “and that common literacy is important to sustaining a wholesome democracy.”

Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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